ML: “As we prepare for Pittsburgh, it’s an important game. For us, it’s the season opener at home. It’s a division game. You want to get off to a good start at home, and defend the home turf as they say. It’s a big football game for us.”
Beyond not wanting to lose a game at any time, how important would it be to go 1-1 and not 0-2 with the way things have set up right now?
ML: “We’d be one game better (laughs). It’s important to get on the winning road and get on track.”
Once Andy got those wins last year against the Steelers and Ravens, did anything change in his demeanor? Do you think there’s any different confidence?
ML: “I don’t think so. I don’t think we target winning against those two as much as just winning games in general. They are division games and they’re always important games for us. The number one goal is always to win the division, so it’s important to beat the division teams. When you win, particularly up there, as Andy did last year in the game we played in Pittsburgh, it’s key. It was a game that went back and forth the entire game. It was a very tight football game, a very physical and emotional game, so it’s good to withstand and weather that storm.”
A number of players have been talking about how this team’s attitude has changed, even though you were predicted by many people to win the division. How have you built, not just the team talent-wise, but how have you restructured the whole attitude of this franchise?
ML: “The restructure comes from the people you have and the leadership you have through them, and I think it’s very strong. They know what the ultimate goal, is and they keep people pointed in the right direction, and knowing how you do it. You don’t do it by talking about it, or reading about it, or allowing someone else to talk about you in that manner. You’ve got to go earn it.”
On some teams, the leader of the football team is pretty obvious. Would you say that
ML: “Andy is the leader of the team. James has come here and really lent a great professional attitude. He’s been a great model for our guys to watch how he goes about his profession. He’s done a great job that way.”
When they lose Maurkice Pouncey on their line, how can you take advantage of that?
ML: “They’re plugging in a new player in (Kelvin) Beachum. They’ve got a guy that played quite a bit of football from them last year, and he stepped right in and went to work. They feel very confident in him and their guys around him. That’s a team that has a lot of experience that understands that they’ve lost players before. They know that the next guy gets up and steps in, and everybody else tries to play above it.”
What kind of a back is Jonathan Dwyer?
ML: “The backs and their style are similar in that they’re guys that you have to get wrapped up and get cloth on. Both their stature, they’re sturdy guys, and you have to really do a good job of wrapping up on them. They’re good inside cut runners and have good vision. They’re going to gain the extra yardage after contact if you don’t get guys there and wrap up.”
ML: “It’s not a big change up from where we’ve been, but it’s been for whatever reason the buzz. I don’t need to respond to anything a rookie says anyway (laughs). Just be quiet and listen.”
You guys drafted Eifert No. 1, and you already have what most people consider a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end:
ML: “He’s been to the Pro Bowl a few times.”
Is this something you think you’re going to stick with through the course of the season?
ML: “Oh yeah. For years we tried to find a well-rounded tight end like we’ve got in Jermaine (Gresham). We had a great pro here for a while in Reggie Kelly. He wasn’t quite the receiver we have in Jermaine, but he had all the other attributes. In Jermaine, we felt like we got the total package, which is why we picked him when we did. When we were able to select Tyler where we selected, we felt like we were gaining a guy that already had incredible receiving skills that would grow into the physical part of playing tight end. He came in here and was better at that than I even expected. That’s been the good thing. The game is not too big for him. He understands things. He does a great job of it. He’s probably a little bit ahead of his time with the things that he’s natural at. They’ve been a good complement to each other, and it’s been great. In some ways, they both have learned things from each other.”
You’ve been clear that Gresham has played very well this year. What is it about his game that he’s been able to take it to the next level?
ML: “Every time put a pick on a number one draft pick, he’s got to be the whole thing. He’s got to be a guy that strives to get your team where it needs to be, and that’s to play championship football. I think he has those qualities in him, and they keep coming to the forefront. For him, he’s trying to make it more consistent, and we’re trying to coach him through that.”
How about his blocking? We know he can catch, but it seems like his blocking has been better:
ML: “He’s not ever disappointed us as a blocker.”
If you didn’t have to face him twice a year, how much would you enjoy seeing Roethlisberger do his thing?
ML: (Laughs) “That’s the best question today (laughs). He’s an incredible talent. I told our team today, he’s a dynamic quarterback. His ability to deliver the football, if it has to be timely, he’s timely with it. He’s accurate with it. If he’s got to avoid the rush and make a play, he does that. We’ve watched him do it on one leg. We’ve watched him do it beat up, with a bad hand. In many different ways he just continues to play. You rally around a guy like that, and he’s done a great job.”
What has the biggest change in their offense been with Todd Haley as their coordinator compared to when Bruce Arians was there?
ML: “I don’t know. That’s probably not a good question for me to answer (laughs).”
ML: (Laughs) “It’s important that we do a good job in the passing game no matter who is getting the football. It is what it is. The quarterback has to read coverage, he’s got to deliver the ball, and guys have to be very timely in their breaks and their cuts. To be specific is not what I do.”
Do you account for Troy Polamalu differently when he’s healthy?
ML: “You account for Polamalu all the time, yes you do. You have to account for Troy. He ends up in the darndest spots. He knows the defense inside and out. He does a great job of studying the opponent. He knows your formation tendencies and personnel tendencies. He does a great job of getting himself in position to make plays. You have to account for him, and you have to understand that if this is something unfolding the way you ran it the last couple weeks, he’s probably going to beat you to that spot if you don’t get there in a hurry.”
With the way they have had to plug in players over the years, are they still getting that done at the same level? They lost James Harrison (in free agency) and Larry Foote goes out. Are they still about to do that?
ML: “Well you’ve lost two of your stalwarts. Over time, that remains to be seen. It’s hard to judge that right now. I think Kion Wilson stepped in and did a fine job. I was impressed with how he played last week. He’s physical, he played downhill, he put his face in blocks, he got off the block, he hustled to the football and made tackles, and that’s what they want. He’s watched everybody else do this and he’s like ‘This is my shot. I’ve got to go do this.’ That’s the greatest part. When you keep systems intact, and you just have one guy coming in, that makes it a lot easier. The other nine guys have been in the system for a while there, and that says a lot.”
What’s the one thing you know you’re going to get from Dick LeBeau?
ML: “We’re going to get the different inside fire-zone pressures. We’re going to get those, we’re going to get the cross pressures. The people on TV like to call them the cross dogs and those kinds of things. We’re going to get that. You’re going to get the nickel stuff off the slots. We’re going to get those things, and we’re going to show this way, and rotate that way, and come from the other side. They just do a good job of disguise. What you saw last week, one guy will be changed and you’ll get the similar pressure, but it will be a different player there. The players there do a good job of understanding that.”
Is it pretty much the 1992 playbook?
ML: “There are things that they do differently. It was really ’93 when we started doing most of this, but there are things they do a little differently and more of. But really, Dick is the developer of this way back in the day here. He understands the principles and the things he’s trying to teach more than anybody does. Players have a great understanding of it. They understand how to let the coverage unfold. Whatever the pressure is, and then let the coverage unfold with it.”
The Hall of Fame list of nominees came out yesterday. Willie Anderson is on there for first year of eligibility. Did he ever get his due?
ML: “I’m not an expert at this. I’m not an expert at much, as you know (laughs). I would imagine that most guys who have an opportunity to be voted into the Hall of Fame played in a Super Bowl, minimum. That’s probably one thing that Willie didn’t get an opportunity to do. Had he done that, then I think he’s looked at in a different light. As far as a player, though, in comparison to those tackles who were in that era, you’ve got (Willie) Roaf and Willie Anderson, you’ve got Jonathan (Ogden), you’ve got Tony Boselli, I mean you’ve got four very, very good players who were playing during that era, and I’m sure I’m missing one.”
ML: “He had a shorter career, a shorter shelf life there. I think Walter was in the ’97 draft. I just know he was the same as (Peter) Boulware, that’s all. But I think Willie, for how outstanding he was, when you’re coaching against Willie like I was for such a long time and then coming over here and having Willie on your side is what you want. Then even watching Willie as he went over to Baltimore in his last season of playing (2008), he was not the same player but still a big, strong, physical guy that really means a lot to his football team. I can remember telling Willie the first time that he was selected to the Pro Bowl. I remember that. It was emotional. It brought tears to both of our eyes when I told him that because it meant a lot to him. Winning helped that recognition.”
Sticking with offensive tackles, any change in Whitworth’s status?
ML: “I think so. He’s partly … ”
ML: “He’s about like the weather out there today. Some good, some bad. He’s doing pretty good, though. He’s doing well.”
What do you hope the fans bring Monday night?
ML: “I think just energy. The energy they bring, I think the noise, obviously, it’s important to take advantage of the noise when you’re at home. It’s big. We played in a very loud environment last week. It didn’t hurt us in that way because I think our guys had pretty good focus, but even to the defensive players trying to make adjustments, they have to concentrate more as they’re listening to the coaches on the sideline. It’s just a different feel and atmosphere. This is going to be a great place and a great night and let’s have at it. I read it’s been a bit since we won a game here on Monday night so let’s change that history there so it gives you guys something else to write about.”
Why have you guys been better on road than at home last few years? The record bears that out.
ML: “We need to change that right now. If we knew the answer we’d push a button and correct it. We’ve got to focus in and go. It’s a new season.”
AD: “Yeah. Anytime when you play the Steelers, it's a big game. For us to go into Pittsburgh last year and win when there was a lot on the line, I think that was big for us as a team. Obviously it's a new year, but we know the kind of games we play when we play the Steelers. They're always tough games. They're always close games. We know the importance of playing these guys and how good they are.”
Has their defense changed in any way without James Harrison, Larry Foote on IR and no more Casey Hampton?
AD: “There's not a whole lot of changes. They're still doing a lot of the same stuff they did in previous years. It's kind of how their defense has been. They just plug new guys in, guys that they expect to play well. Unfortunately they've had a couple of injuries and lost a couple of guys, but we're still expecting the same kind of defense. They played well last week and we're going to get their best effort this week.”
A.J. Green didn't do much the first time you played the Steelers last season, but he had a big game the second time around. What was the difference?
AD: “I think just the way that we were doing things. I think we found ways to get A.J. the ball. We had chances to get him the ball a little more in the second game and he played well. A.J. is obviously a big part of this offense, and it's finding different ways to get it to him.”
Ike Taylor didn't play in the second game, does he make that much of a difference?
AD: “Ike is a good player. He's played well. He played well against us. So we expect him to follow A.J. around. It's a good matchup out there. But we expect A.J. to win and we expect A.J. to make plays.”
The Bears played a lot of zone and the Steelers are more man-to-man. Do you expect different type of coverages this week?
AD: “It's different just because the schemes are completely different. There's going to be different things that we're going to see just because of the difference in the schemes. We'll see. We feel like we've got a good plan going in and we’ll go from there.”
Are the expectations greater on you for Monday after what happened in the first game?
AD: “It's a big game for us not only because we're playing the Steelers, but Monday night adds more hype to the game. Also we're 0-1 right now. We want to get to 1-1, and the Steelers are the team we're playing in the second game of the year. I think all that makes it a big game, but you can't do anything different. We’ve got to go out and play our best. We felt like we played well last week, we just turned the ball over and it hurt us in the game. We felt if we don't turn the ball over, it could be completely different. But we've got to fix those things that hurt us, and I think we'll do that.”
If A.J. catches that ball and I think there was another catch, you would have been about 82 percent. Whether it be the two tight end sets, the new weapons, is there any reason why it was easier for you to complete passes?
AD: “Well, I think we've just gotten better as a team. That's a big part of it. I feel like I've improved, I feel like the offense has improved, and we’re finding ways to keep getting completions and moving the chains. Hopefully we can keep that up and keep completing a lot of balls and keep the percentage up.”
Despite the loss, do you feel like it was maybe as good of a game as you’ve played?
AD: “I thought there were some really good things that happened in the game. Obviously, it's unfortunate we lost. After watching the film, there are some good things to take away from the tape. We've got to do whatever we can to win these games. It's going to be close almost every week. I read somewhere it's the most games won by seven points or less or something like that. So that's just kind of the nature of the NFL. They're all going to be close and we've got to find a way to win those games.”
The NFL has become more of a passing league. A lot of teams in the league had trouble running the ball. Marvin Lewis has always been a run-first guy. Do you ever see it being pass-first here?
AD: “We want to be balanced as much as we can. If we can run the ball, it really opens up the passing game. It's hard to say, run first, pass first, whatever it is. We're trying to do whatever we can to win the game. Whatever we're doing well, that's probably what we'll stick with. It all depends on the game and the score and that stuff. So it's hard to say if we're going to be run-first, pass-first. We want to do whatever it takes to win the games.”
In an ideal world, what role do you want
AD: “We want him to be a playmaker, to come in and make big plays. He's done that since he's been here. He's been a really consistent, solid guy, always in the right spot. And that's his role, and that's what he's done a good job of since he's been here.”
Was the run game one of the most disappointing things from Game 1?
AD: “Obviously you want to be able to run the ball well, but I thought we did enough. We were able to throw the ball and get looks that we wanted to throw the ball in. It's going to be different each week. You never know what's going to be working to help move the chains.”
Has James Harrison given up any good Steelers secrets this week? How has he been in the locker room?
AD: “He's been good. This is a big week for him. But we're just trying to win the game.”
He hasn’t told you anything?
AD: “Well, I haven't gone up to him yet and talked to him about all that stuff. I’ve just focused on my study of their film. But I'm sure I'll try to get some tips from him.”
Is the Steelers defense kind of like ‘expect the unexpected’ because they throw so many different coverages at you?
AD: “Yeah, there's different things that they do. From watching a lot of film, they've got different blitzes and different stuff that we've got to be prepared for. Just finding out which ones they're going to be up for when we're playing them. But you've got to prepare for everything.”
Do you approach primetime games any differently? Is there any added pressure?
AD: “There's not added pressure. You want to perform on the big stage. That's what it comes down to. Really the only difference is we've got an extra day and you've got to wait around all day Monday to play these night games. You can't put any added pressure on yourself. You've just got to go out and be the player you are, and not try to do too much.”
What do you hope the fans bring to the game Monday night that you haven’t seen in years past?
AD: “I think this is a big game not only for the team here but the city of Cincinnati. I expect everybody to come out and be loud and really use the crowd noise to our advantage. Hopefully we can draw some penalties from the crowd. I think everybody's excited about this one.”
Is it too early to start making a statement in the division?
AD: “No. It's what you want to do. This is the first division game. You kind of want to set the tone for how we're going to play and what type of team we're going to be. This is a great week to do that.”
How does the game last December in Pittsburgh rate in terms of physicality?
AD: “It was real physical. It was a game where the mentality of everybody was pretty physical. We've got to take that on. We've got to be ready for it, and we've got to be the most physical team out there.”
Do you feel different after beating the Steelers and Ravens last year? Is the way you approach this game any different?
AD: “I'm trying to win every game that I'm playing. I think the biggest thing is I'm not getting questions about never beating the Ravens or the Steelers anymore ... even though I'm still getting them. It's the same thing. I'm trying to win every game that I play, and I prepare that way.”